One Of The Many Corpses In The Johnstown Mine by Arthur Brisbane

Story type: Essay

The widow says to the mine owner: “Here he is, dead–killed working for you. Where were you when he was killed? Driving in your carriage, enjoying the difference between his EARNINGS and his PAY. Was one dollar and thirty cents per day too much to pay him for this risk? Was it too much to let him save something for us–who now have nothing? Is there nothing to arbitrate when the man who risks his life and gets nothing asks arbitration of the man who risks nothing and gets all? —-

There are many men in America–honest and sincere–who believe that strikers are nearly always right, that failure of a strike is a calamity.

Other men, less numerous, but also honest and sincere, consider strikes an evil. They believe that labor unionism threatens “capital,” threatens national energy, and our national industrial supremacy. —-

Let us endeavor to take a clear view of the strike question, and to discuss–as free from bias as may be possible–some of the main viewpoints of those interested.

We may, at the start, accept two statements as sound:

First. The employer wants as much money as he can possibly get.

Second. The workman wants as much money as HE can possibly get.

It is impossible for both or for either to win absolutely. The success of one must leave the other penniless.

Let us look at the matter of a coal strike only, for simplicity’s sake.

In a coal mine you have three factors:

First. The COAL given to men–presumably for the use of mankind in general–by Divine Providence.

Second. The WORKMEN who dig the coal, haul it, screen it, etc.

Third. The OWNER, who through money, or intelligence, or both, gets control of mines and works them for his profit.

The mine owner resents the suggestion that he and his men are partners.

Ought he to resent that suggestion? We think not.

Miners without any capitalist could certainly get coal out of the ground.

The capitalist without miners could not possibly get coal out of the ground.

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The labor is at least as important as the mine. —-

The capitalist who wishes to acquire a mine is willing to grant certain rights and conditions to him who has the MINE for sale. He treats with that person as with an equal.


If a hundred men own the mine, and elect a certain agent to represent them in the sale, the capitalist will willingly treat with that agent EVEN THOUGH HE BE NOT ONE OF THE ACTUAL MINE OWNERS. It becomes simply a question of the agent’s AUTHORITY.

Why does the capitalist haughtily refuse to treat with the accredited agent of the men who have the LABOR for sale,

Is it not because he resents the workman’s attempt at emancipation and equality? Is it not because the capitalist in his heart demands SUBMISSION from the man who works for a daily wage?

Is it not because the powerful among us fail to admit that workers have passed from slavery to equality?

A man owns vast mining properties. He lives in New York and in Newport. Comfortably, and at a distance, he runs and rules his mines. He is good-natured enough, kind-hearted. He means well. He does not see the corpses brought up from the fire-damp. He does not notice the hollow chests of young children with the pores of their skin and the pores of their lungs full of coal dust.

This owner–who rules and draws his profits from Newport–has one bitter complaint against his striking men. He cannot forgive them BECAUSE THEY CALL IN A LABOR LEADER FROM CHICAGO TO SETTLE A LABOR DISPUTE IN PENNSYLVANIA.

Imagining himself most condescending, he expresses willingness to treat personally and individually with his men. But he will not tolerate interference “with my business” on the part of the workmen’s agent, whom he calls “an agitator from Chicago.”

WHY should he feel so badly about it?

If the Pennsylvania workman is willing to let a NEWPORT man manage the capitalistic end, should not that Newport man allow a CHICAGO labor leader to manage the labor end?

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Is not one explanation the fact that the owner considers his workmen, in every possible respect, financially, morally, legally, ethically and eternally, his inferiors?

If one mine owner disagrees with another, each will treat with the other’s chosen agent, whether he be Tom Reed, corporation lawyer from Maine; Joe Choate, corporation lawyer from New York, or Levy, corporation lawyer from Chicago.

Why not accord to the workman the right to choose his accredited representative?

So much for the much-talked-of “interference in MY business by labor agitators.”

What about the interests of the country? There are in Pennsylvania, let us say, one hundred square miles of coal lands OWNED BY ONE MAN, and WORKED BY TEN THOUSAND MEN.

The working of this mining region develops an annual net profit, perhaps, of five million dollars, AFTER the workmen have been paid as little as they will work for.

The owner lives in a house of a hundred rooms.

The miner’s family lives in two rooms. The owner has a yacht, a private car, a fast automobile, fine carriages, many servants.

The miner WALKS. He has a wife who cooks, sews, scrubs, washes, mends while he and his boys work in the mines.

We wish to arouse no “maudlin sympathy” for the miner, no “anarchist loathing” of the owner.

We ask an answer to this question:

Which would be better for America: to let one man have five millions a year, and keep ten thousand men on the edge of want; or to let the one (and, if you choose, SUPERIOR) man have one million a year, and divide the four millions among ten thousand families, adding four hundred dollars to the income of each family? That is a plain, simple question.

Remember, we suggest and advocate no COMPULSION. We state a situation. The STRIKER is trying to get a little more for himself and family. The OWNER is trying to keep the vast sum for himself and his family. Each is convinced of the righteousness of his cause. The striker does not try to TAKE AWAY money or property from the owner. He simply strikes, saying:

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“I will not work for less than such a sum, unless you starve me into working.”

He calls upon YOU, the public, to give him moral support. He entreats other workmen not to take his place while he strikes.

It is for YOU, the public, and for YOU, the idle, hard-pressed workmen, to answer conscientiously the question:

Is it better for one man to have four extra MILLIONS a year, or for each of ten thousand families to have four extra HUNDREDS a year, that they need sadly and sorely?

If this question were answered as Christ would answer it, there would be no smug respectabilities scoffing at the striker. There would be no heartless scabs taking the places of men struggling to support wives and children.

Leave out sentimentality, if you will, and Christianity, and our hollow pretence of following Him who called every poor man “my brother.”

What about the cold utility? Four millions more for an owner mean what?

Some bogus antiquities, and perhaps a bogus title brought to America.

Another palace, with a dissatisfied owner.

A dissipated son; money spent by this son to promote vice, and by the father to corrupt legislation. Four hundred dollars more for a workman’s family mean wholesome food for children. And the children go to school and have a chance.

This sum means a self-respecting life for a father, and for the mother it means everything. She can hire some woman to help her when her babies come. She can give her husband and her children good food, rejoice in their comfort, add good, healthy citizens to the nation. —-

The owner in his struggle makes various statements of which only a few must be answered, and very briefly, for the sake of the impatient reader.

“If capital goes on granting the demands of union labor there will be no more capital, no more big manufactures, our prosperity will die as England’s prosperity is dying–killed by union labor!”

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Thus speaks the indignant, would-be patriotic and unselfish capitalist. Let us see:

What becomes of the established FACT that a nation is prosperous in proportion as the average individual citizen (NOT its few millionaires) is prosperous? There are nowhere on earth stronger labor unions than in the United States. There are no such unions in Mexico, none such in South America, none as powerful in Canada. Why are we not eclipsed industrially by those countries?

You say that labor unions have killed English industry? No. They have kept England alive in the face of fierce competition. Millions upon millions of Englishmen live on a little foggy northern island incapable of supporting them. By their courage, their mental power, their genius, their UNION, they have kept the nation great. It is as though in one corner of New York State we had the greatest industrial power on earth. What the Gulf Stream has been to England’s agriculture, labor unionism has been to England’s industry.

It is not the English WORKINGMAN who has been beaten. The English workmen did not sell the English mercantile navy to J.P. Morgan. English capitalists did that.

Get this in your heads, you who talk against unions. Morgan and his fellow American capitalists have formed themselves into financial UNIONS, which we call trusts. And they have beaten the English capitalist, who did not know enough to take lessons from his workman and form unions of his own.

The American FINANCIAL union, not the English LABOR union, has beaten England in the race for industrial supremacy.

Union is strength everywhere and forever. The remaining strength of England is in her labor unions, which give men time to think, food to grow on, and give real men to the nation. You say that powerful unions kill nations.

Why is not China a great industrial power?

She has vast fortunes and no unions. Li Hung Chang was richer than Morgan, and could cut off the head of any striker. His coolies got five cents a day and worked fourteen hours–is THAT your ideal system? —-

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Last of all (and we apologize for this unforgivably long editorial), let us discuss the question of foreign labor. The capitalist complains that the Hungarian, “the brutal, ignorant foreigner,” makes much of the trouble, and “wants as much as an American.”

Loud is this cry against the foreign laborer. And the ignorant, know-nothing American workman joins in the cry only too willingly.

Who brings in those foreign laborers by the shipload, Mr. Mineowner?

Who rounds up cargoes of Slavs on the other side and brings them here to cut the wages and the living of the native-born?

Who shrieks dolefully, Mr. Miner, when the Slav shows that he is a MAN brave and willing to prove worthy of freedom by joining the army of union labor?

The Slav and the Hungarian ARE HERE, and their children will be here when we are dead.

Which is better, to underpay them, treat them like cattle, fill them with just hatred of unjust discrimination, or give them a chance to be men?

Shall their children grow up ignorant mine slaves? Or shall they go to that factory of honest citizenship–the public school–to be improved as we have all been improved, whether we came originally from Hungary, Ireland, England, France, Russia, or elsewhere?

The struggle of the strikers, like all great struggles, is sometimes unjust. It has not always the wisest or the most unselfish leaders.

But it is an effort to improve the AVERAGE CONDITION OF HUMANITY. Help that effort.

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